Researchers at the National Robotarium, led by Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, have secured £586,000 to develop 3D laser beams whose shape can be changed.
The research hopes to transform the manufacturing and healthcare technology industries.
It hopes to make it easier and cheaper to produce products that require highly-precise manufacturing, such as medical equipment and mobile devices.
It hopes to develop laser beams which have been specifically designed to meet the exact manufacturing requirements of producers to improve precision and efficiency.
The funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation, will support the research and development of the lasers for industry application.
It will help with accelerating the commercialisation of the technology for the benefit of businesses and the wider Scottish economy.
Lasers are an important component of modern manufacturing, with the global laser processing market projected to grow from $4 billion in 2020 to $5.8 billion by 2025.
They are used widely by industry to produce precise incisions and mould materials into specific shapes.
However, this approach to manufacturing lasers depends on melting or vaporising the material, which means the laser’s energy must be focussed on the right points.
The standard laser beam shape makes it difficult to tailor this for specific manufacturing processes, decreasing efficiency and limiting what can be made.
The new technique could be harnessed to improve how holes for sensors and cameras on smartphone screens are drilled and to increase the density of information on semiconductor chips, helping to keep up with the ever-increasing demand for more memory in devices.
Medical applications could include cancer surgery, where it is hoped more precise medical instruments could allow the resection of tumours without removing healthy surrounding tissue.
Researchers will be working with three industrial partners throughout the project to optimise the approach and final product for commercial application. Industrial partners PowerPhotonic, Oxford Lasers and the G&H Group will also support testing in real-life industrial settings.
The National Robotarium is supported by £21 million from the UK Government and £1.4 million from the Scottish Government as part of the £1.3 billion Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal – a 15 year investment programme jointly funded by both governments and regional partners.
Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy Kate Forbes said: “This is a crucial time for business, trade and investment in Scotland. City Region and Growth Deals have a key role to play in our economic recovery from the pandemic as we work towards a fairer and more inclusive Scotland.”
Dr Richard Carter, assistant professor of applied optics and photonics at Heriot-Watt University and the project’s lead, said: “The new methods we are developing represent a paradigm shift in the capabilities of laser-based manufacturing, making it possible to move between 3D beam shapes with zero down-time, low cost and minimal technical know-how.”
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